Midnighter's writer: an interview with Steve Orlando
Wed. June 24, 2015 by Gregg Shapiro
We are looking to give a sort of icon to the queer community. It’s vitally important that he’s a gay man in the book. I can’t discount that.
Say hello to Midnighter, the “first gay male superhero to headline a mainstream comic.”
Gay comic book readers and fanboys rejoice, Midnighter has arrived (or returned, depending on your perspective). Launched in early June 2015, just in time for Pride month, the Midnighter series, written by out writer Steve Orlando, is described as being about the “first gay male superhero to headline a mainstream comic.” If Midnighter’s name is familiar, he’s been around, and gay (marrying his husband Apollo in 2002), since the late 1990s. However, in the hands of gay writer Orlando, with his own saga, Midnighter is going to be doing things he’s never done before and going places he’s never been, something that should delight comic book readers, gay and straight. Midnighter #2 will be available in early July. I spoke with Orlando about Midnighter and more in June 2015.
GS: Steve, do you remember what the first comic book you ever read was?
SO: Yes, I do, actually. It was West Coast Avengers #16. It features Hellcat and Tigra having a fight over who gets to be Tigra. It was called “A Tale of Two Kitties.”
GS: Because you remember that much detail, would you say that it had a profound effect on you?
SO: Yes, but comics in general have. That was a book I bought at a flea market in New York. It’s not like it was a new run book like on new comic book day. But the excitement and what I now know as the modern day takes on myth – at the time I thought it was cool, people punching each other – appealed to me and it always has. It drove me through to buying more modern books. When you’re young you don’t know a lot of things and I didn’t realize they were making new versions of these things. I was always buying them at tag sales. Once I walked into a Waldenbooks, which I think is a fossil company now, and started buying comics off the spinner rack, I got into the serialized aspect and discovered a kind of storytelling that I really enjoy.
GS: You mentioned “new comic book day” and used the term “spinner rack.” Would it be safe to say that you describe yourself as a comic book geek?
SO: Maybe more of an evangelist, about why new people should try comics. I’m certainly often the nerdiest guy in the room. I’ve sometimes brought up characters in editorial that are deep in the book. When it comes to my personal life, I’m probably one of the nerdiest guys around. Those are the characters I love. There are no really bad characters, they just haven’t found the right take yet. Revitalizing that, along with my thoughts on comics, an interpretation of mythology and pop culture, and where they meet. I do love digging deep in the book and finding something that can have new life breathed into it.
GS: For people who aren’t comic book fans, but are excited about the prospect of a gay character such as Midnighter having his own book, where can they go to get the complete back story?
SO: All you’d really need to do is read any of the collections that put together The Authority, issues one through twelve. It’s been collected a ton of different ways. You can buy it on your iPad or phone or on comixology or on Amazon or find it in hard copy almost anywhere that The Authority by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch. They’re the creators of the character. If you wanted extra credit, you could go back and get the previous volume of Stormwatch that happens before that, from 1998. That is the character’s first appearance ever. If you wanted extra extra credit you could read some select issues of the previous Midnighter series before the character was bought by DC Comics. I specifically like Midnighter 8 by Christos Gage and John Paul Leon. It’s a story like the one we’re doing in the book now. It acknowledges his grander scheme as being this sort of sci-fi, world-exploiting character, but it’s also a very human story and it understands the caring that is underneath his violent exterior. If you read all of those, you’d be fantastic.
GS: What is the genesis of the name Midnighter?
SO: When I read it, I always thought they were playing off of Batman and Superman. Superman is the sun god, so you have Apollo. Midnighter I took as being a play on the opposite. I didn’t know of any specific meaning to the word. Apparently, midnighter also means when you’re working overnight or at least starting at midnight. The main thing is, back when Warren was creating the character, not to put words in his mouth, it seemed as though he was going for these primal-type names. I think all the names, going back to The Authority, were these slightly simpler, immediately telling, genre-busting names - Apollo, Midnighter, The Doctor, The Engineer. Saying them or seeing them evokes the primal sense of the character. For example, Midnighter is the last guy you want to see in the middle of the night. For criminals, that kind of fear of walking down the alley that they give to you, he gives to them. That’s what the character, and I think his name, is about.
GS: Midnighter was previously in a long term relationship that has since ended.
SO: He hasn’t been in a long-term relationship within the continuity of DC Comics. But yes, before the character was bought by DC and integrated into the DC U(niverse), he was in a long-term relationship.
GS: He is now single and playing the field. Is it necessary for Midnighter to take any precautions when being intimate with others or is he, and by extension, his partner immune from STDs?
SO: Definitely not. There is a shot of him using condoms and being safe. I think it’s important to know that he is being safe, but at the same time I think it’s important to have a sex-positive book because it’s a problem that’s coming up in the community. There’s nothing wrong with confident gay male sexuality. There’s nothing wrong with a sexually confident woman or a sexually confident gay man, as long as he’s being safe. In the context of the story, when you met Apollo and Midnighter in 1998 they were already together off-page for five years. As a reader, you’ve never seen them, or their interactions, at this point in the relationship, because of only knowing each other for a few months. The fact is, real relationships are work and sometimes people move too fast. From my point of view, since Apollo was Midnighter’s first boyfriend ever, I love the way they bounce off of each other once you see them where they were when they were in Stormwatch, but that was five years into their relationship. You get to see the pitfalls and how they learned to become the people they are. With only an issue and a half out, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him having an active sex life, as long as we’re portraying it safely.
GS: Is there a target audience for the Midnighter series?
SO: We are looking to give a sort of icon to the queer community. It’s vitally important that he’s a gay man in the book. I can’t discount that. The messages I’ve been getting from people since issue one came out have been wonderful. I have received messages from people saying they didn’t have the strength to come out and after they read the book they felt like they were able to do it. That was after the book had been out for only five or six days. People have said that they’ve been waiting 30 years to see someone like them lead a book. To me, that’s what comics should do. Comics are based on this idea – in the `30s it was Superman and he was an immigrant and we had a strong immigrant population, and they were saying, “This guy’s fighting for us!” In the `60s you had Peter Parker (Spiderman) who had all of these super powers, but he had trouble with his girlfriend (a reader could think), “Oh, he has problems just like me.” The idea that you pick up this pop culture myth and, wow, you can see yourself in it. That “wow” moment is something that everyone deserves. The initial answer is that it’s something for the queer community. I want to give that to them because that’s comics doing the job of comics, and wild pop culture doing the job of wild pop culture. At the same time, I don’t want people to read the book simply because it has a gay male lead because that implies that there’s simply not anything else interesting about him. I would say it’s for fans of The Authority and action comics. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say they’ve never encountered the character before and that they love his point of view on life. It’s for people who love a crazy action book that will always have an insane action set piece, special effects budget and unrepentantly wild and crazy.
GS: After speaking with you, I’ll be interviewing Buddy Nielsen of the post-hardcore/screamo band Senses Fail who recently came out as queer, which made me wonder if you listened to music while you draw, and if so, what do you listen to and is Senses Fail on your playlist?
SO: It’s funny that you would bring up music. My true understanding of Midnighter is related to music and related to punk. If you’ve read interviews with Henry Rollins, he talks about how people always ask him if he’s gay. I read one with him, long ago, where he finally said, “If I was gay, it wouldn’t be a problem. If I was gay, there wouldn’t be a closet. I would have exploded the closet and kicked down the door and used the shard to stab someone in the face.” That broke me and how I understand Midnighter today. There’s no closet for him. He’s out as a gay man, he’s out as a superhero. I think they go together because he’s not lying about himself, ever, he never does. I got that from music and a guy who’s heavily into the punk scene. But on a day-to-day basis, I have to say I have really weird habits as to what I’m listening to. A lot of people need silence. A lot people need no words. For whatever reason, I tend to a fair amount of white noise. I’ll usually put on extremely long dramas that I don’t have to worry about or find necessarily interesting, where there’s a lot of talking going on so I can calm my mind and focus it. Having said that, Lou Reed was someone who was influencing the pitch. I may have run out of albums to listen to, but he was a strong influence when I was trying to find a point of view for the character as well. Lou Reed is a good role model for Midnighter – he was experimented on as a youth and his past is robbed and that’s what turned him into Midnighter and other things. Lou Reed was given electroshock therapy when he was young. I didn’t even realize it until I thought about it a little more right here, but there is actually a through line between he characters.
GS: Shortly before this interview took place, the musical Fun Home, based on the work of lesbian graphic novelist and cartoonist Alison Bechdel, had a very successful night at the Tony Awards. Between Fun Home and Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark from a few years ago, non-traditional, meaning non-Disney, illustrated characters are having an impact on theater. What do you think about that?
SO: I think it’s great! Comic characters are sort of like these pop culture totems. Comic books are their natural habitats, but seeing them break out into other mediums is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing because it takes something that, according to Warren Ellis, is a singular experience. You don’t gather around with five or six of your friends and try to fit your face in front of a book that is largely the length of a Greek diner menu unfolded. Movies are a communal experience and the same goes for theater. Seeing that these characters can do great in places other than comic books is a great thing. You’re bringing the characters’ themes to a new medium, allowing people to experience them with other people, as opposed to next to other people, which I think is awesome.
GS: If there was a Midnighter movie, who would you want to play the lead?
SO: That’s challenging. I’ve seen a fair amount of people online saying that they would like to see it be Tom Hardy. Probably because he’s reportedly had same-sex experience and likes to take seminude selfies and definitely commits himself to roles and is definitely a great actor. That would be a great idea. When I first started thinking about it, I took the easy answer and thought it might be fun for Matt Boemer to play him because he’s like a Greek god. I think I like Hardy more because there is an edginess and danger to Midnighter that I think he could get across better than someone like Boemer. Matt Boemer is gorgeous, but he looks like he should be piloting a yacht, instead of blowing one up.
Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.